After buying a peach drink at the little xiaomaibu (something I was to be grateful for on the thirst-inducing climb) we set off up the hill, past the hydro power station and followed a steep track up alongside a big water pipe. It was hard going and I was soon sweating. The track then opened out to a zig-zagging road with views over the Mekong. This is how Rock described it:
And this is what it looked like in 2014:
Onwards and upwards we hiked up the green and pleasant valley much as described by Joseph Rock.
Within the hour we had come across a very swish mountain hut called Hongxing (Red Star) Lodge that looked recently built. The wooden hut seemed the perfect place to stay for the night, with great views of the valley and also well equipped with beds and cooking equipment. But my guide urged me on, saying we had to stay at another lodge higher up the valley nearer the pass because we would need to make good time tomorrow.
At about 4pm we stopped at a derelict stone shelter with no roof, situated next to a huge square rock. For some reason the guide insisted that we stop and eat dinner there, even though it was early. I made more tea and ate a few Vita Wheat and then continued on upwards to a blue hut in the distance, where the guide said we would stay for the night. It was only about a 20 minute walk, amid beautiful scenery, much as described by Joseph Rock. On the way I saw a troop (?) of large golden brown/grey monkeys scurrying away up the side of the valley about 300 metres away from us.
The 'blue roof hut' had a Catholic/Christian heart/cross emblem on it and characters in Tibetan and Chinese saying it was a "Benevolence Lodge" (San Fang) - it had presumably been built or inspired by the Catholic missionary priests based at Cizhong. We settled in here for the night, with great views of the main divide. The interior, however, was very bleak and unwelcoming. Absolutely bare, with a stone floor and no amenities other than the windows through which a cold wind blew. The guide soon had a fire going in the middle of the room and I prepared one of my dehydrated dinners and made more tea. The fire filled the stone hut full of smoke, which set me off coughing and spluttering and turned my eyes bloodshot. After half an hour I decided to pitch my tent outside and sleep there instead. It was hard to find a piece of level ground, but I eventually got a slightly sloping plot and stuck my tent there. It proved to be quite comfortable and at least had breathable air. My guide warned me there would be rats, but I got to sleep OK with no unwelcome visitors.